Chris Gayle is a man who polarises opinion.
His talent is undoubted, particularly with the bat and his powers are clearly not on the wane as his innings of 333 against Sri Lanka at Galle last November confirms.
He’s also proven useful with the ball and his off-spin has garnered 240 International wickets.
He has led the West Indies side through a turbulent period, with key players who have not stepped up to meet their potential and disputes with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) peppering his time as captain of the side.
During that time he’s always looked laconic, sometimes disinterested, but once holding a bat has shown that he is one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket.
Yet, when he told journalists in 2009 that he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue as captain and that he would not be upset if Test cricket died as the Twenty20 format gained in popularity, it came as both a shock to the traditionalists that someone would espouse such heresy, but no surprise at all that it was Gayle that was making the statement, despite his seniority.
It was perhaps somewhat gauche in stating that “Maybe a couple of the Englishmen wouldn't like to play Twenty20” because they couldn’t adapt their game, a comment that was directed at Andrew Strauss but seems gratuitous when considered in the light of England’s T20 World Cup win in 2010.
However, Gayle’s latest trick appears to confirm his disillusionment with the wider representation of his country and perhaps emblematic of his priorities.
Having refused a central contract from the WICB, along with Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo, so that he would be free to play in the IPL, but confirmed to the Board that he would still be available for selection, Gayle seemed to have agreed that there would be a balancing act to perform in his chase of IPL riches.
But after being assessed for injury after the ICC Cricket World Cup, Gayle was put on a regimen of rest and then rehabilitation ahead of returning to cricket. For that reason, he was omitted from the squads to take on Pakistan in the home T20 and first two ODIs this month so that he could recover.
There is some debate over the level of communication that Gayle and the WICB and selectors had around the subject, but the upshot was that he was left out of the side.
Almost immediately, it appears, Gayle contacted the IPL and had signed up with Royal Challengers of Bangalore, a move that the WICB disapproved of, even if they signed the non-objection certificate required before Gayle could be cleared to play.
Gayle’s argument is that he was left no choice.
This seems like an odd comment to make when, despite any previous lack of communication, he could quite easily have taken the initiative and contacted the WICB or the selectors himself to ascertain their plans for him.
As a senior player he might have expected that he would have had a dialogue about his participation in the series, but even when that dialogue was not initiated by the Board, Gayle has been around long enough to know that he only needed to ask the question.
Indeed, this seems like another instance of Gayle doing what he wants, rather than what might help the West Indies cricket team—perhaps understandable given the difficult time he had as captain, but still rather unbecoming of such a great player.
One wonders, indeed, whether there might yet be further repercussions. Gayle’s IPL stint would seem to preclude his return to the Caribbean for action later in the ODI series or inclusion in the Test side, yet the WICB “repeatedly informed Gayle” that they would reassess his fitness with a view to him playing some role in the series.
Gayle’s actions seem to contradict his assertion last November that the team would “rally round” new captain Darren Sammy, and add yet another twist to the seemingly never-ending turmoil that has surrounded the West Indian cricket team as it has fallen from its perch as the best team in the world to one that struggles from series to series.
This might see the West Indies have to struggle on without Gayle in future, and miss out on seeing the development of a potentially explosive partnership at the top of the order with Adrian Barath.
This tour by Pakistan might yet be the best indication of where West Indian cricket stands; the Pakistanis are notoriously inconsistent and are often at their worst on their travels—which have become a permanent state of affairs of late, given the volatile political situation in Pakistan.
If the West Indies are unable to put up a strong fight against Pakistan, it might well be that the Darren Sammy captaincy is a very brief one, and he might have Chris Gayle to thank for that.